LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin was so nervous during the last few laps of Sunday’s NASCAR Nextel Cup race at New Hampshire International Speedway that his right foot was shaking on the gas pedal.
Hamlin, who believes he needs race wins to be a serious contender for his first Cup championship, was out front, thanks to a late-race gamble on a two-tire stop. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon was looming close in his mirrors.
“You see Jeff coming and you’re trying your best to not be the guy who chokes at the end,” Hamlin said.
Last year’s top rookie had his hands full at the end, trying to keep his No. 11 Chevrolet out of the wall and ahead of Gordon’s No. 24.
“I was all over the track those last two laps,” he said. “I was basically just trying not to give up the bottom.”
Hamlin pulled it off, beating the series points leader to the finish line by 0.068 of a second – less than a car length – to earn his third career victory and first since last July at Pocono.
Hamlin came into the race second in points, but he’s been frustrated, leading laps and contending without being able to take a checkered flag in the first 16 races.
It appeared he would fall short again this time, with Martin Truex Jr., Gordon and Truex’s teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., all running ahead of Hamlin late in the race.
But the leaders made their final scheduled pit stops on lap 255 during a caution period and Hamlin was the only one of the quartet to take two fresh tires instead of four. He vaulted from fourth to first and stayed out front to the end of the Lenox Industrial Tools 300.
“We were back in sixth and seventh most of the day, and the only shot we had was to get track position,” said Hamlin, who now has seven top fives and 11 top 10s this season. “You know, two tires worked for us earlier (in the race), and we kind of made a note that anything inside of 120 laps to go, we were going to do two.”
Hamlin has said he and his team were working hard to win races because the 12 drivers who qualify for this year’s 10-race Chase for the championship will be seeded, with each driver getting 10 extra points for each win during the 26-race regular season.
Both Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, fourth in the points, have four wins already this season.
That was on Hamlin’s mind before his final stop on Sunday.
“We chose to take the two (tires) because we have a decent enough lead on 12th (place) right now that we feel we can take those little extra risks,” Hamlin said. “And this risk, the reward was going to be much bigger than the consequences if it didn’t work.”
LOUDON, N.H. – Kevin Harvick held off a late challenge by Carl Edwards to grab his second NASCAR Busch Series victory of the season Saturday at New Hampshire International Speedway.
The two-time Busch champion, who had not won since the opening weekend of the season, when he swept the Busch and Nextel Cup races at Daytona, picked up his 28th career victory in Busch races.
MAGNY COURS, France – Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa gave Ferrari a sweep of the top two places at the French Grand Prix on Sunday, ending McLaren’s winning streak at three Formula One races.
Raikkonen, who also captured the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, won his second race this year – the 11th of his career – after starting third on the grid.
The Finn finished the 2.74-mile circuit in 1 hour, 30 minutes, 54.200 seconds. Massa, a Brazilian, was nearly 2 1/2 seconds behind.
MONT-TREMBLANT, Quebec – Rookie Robert Doornbos drove to his first career win at the inaugural Champ Car Mont-Tremblant on Sunday, giving him four top-three finishes in six races.
Sebastien Bourdais, Champ Car’s three-time defending champion, finished second and wasn’t happy about it, saying that Doornbos blocked him during the race. Bourdais refused to shake Doornbos’ hand on the podium.
“Robert knows exactly what he did,” Bourdais said. “We’re not supposed to do that in Champ Car. He changed lanes three times when I was trying to pick a line.”
RICHMOND, Va. – Pole-sitter Dario Franchitti led all but nine laps and held off Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon with the help of a late caution Saturday night, giving the points leader his first IndyCar Series victory at Richmond.
Franchitti, whose position in the standings got him the top starting spot when Friday night’s qualifying was rained out, gave up the lead just twice, during pit stops under caution.